Despite a Series of Military Victories, the Syrian Regime May Be Weaker Than Ever

By the end of 2018, Bashar al-Assad and his allies had eliminated the major rebel strongholds in southern Syria, and the U.S. was preparing to abandon the northeast. In February, Assad’s forces began a largely successful assault on the last pocket of resistance in the country’s northwest. Yet despite these developments, Jonathan Spyer writes, the regime is by no means in a position to declare victory:

[W]hile the civil war that began in 2011 may effectively be over, events in the country indicate that no clear winner has emerged from the conflict. Syria appears set to remain divided, impoverished, and dominated by competing external powers. The Assad regime [itself] is beset by infighting at top levels, even as significant unrest returns to regime-controlled areas. . . . Syria remains territorially divided, with the regime controlling just over 60 percent of the country.

But even in the areas under his control, Assad is not succeeding in returning stability and re-consolidating his rule. The problem is first of all economic. Syria is a smoking ruin. Neither Assad, nor his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have the money to begin desperately needed reconstruction. The Europeans and the U.S., meanwhile, will not offer assistance so long as the regime refuses all prospects of political transition.

This stalemate is not endlessly sustainable. Lack of money makes rebuilding impossible. This in turn leads to renewed instability. The economic fortunes of the Assads have deteriorated significantly further in recent weeks. The Syrian pound is in freefall.

Bashar al-Assad is not about to fall. But severe economic deterioration, regime infighting, re-ignited unrest from below, and fresh sanctions about to bite are combining to place his regime under renewed, severe pressure. It is all a long way from the victory parades of just two years ago.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, Syrian civil war

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security